Concussions: A Difficult Diagnosis
Concussion is seen as an evil in the world of sports since it affects all athletes, regardless of the sport, age or level of competition (amateur or professional). The situation is so critical that several sports organizations, such as the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), World Rugby (WR) and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) got together and set up an international conference called the International Conference on Concussion in Sport .
The problem with concussions lies in the complexity of its diagnosis. Each player reacts differently when suffering a concussion, so although recurring symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, confusion and headaches, some players suffering from a concussion may be asymptomatic [2-4]. In addition, only 10% of the computed tomography (CT scan) assessments indicate the presence of brain lesions .
Therefore, the optimal solution to concussions is prevention. This is why new technologies such as football helmets equipped with the Head Impact Telemetry System (Simbex, Lebanon, NH), and portable measuring instruments such as the xPatch (X2 Biosystems, Seattle, WA) and the SIM-G headband (Triax Technologies Inc., Norwalk, CT)—designed to observe head movement parameters in the field such as linear acceleration, angular acceleration and head direction—have been developed in recent years. Even though some of these measuring instruments offer an acceptable error of around 12% , new technologies have resulted in observational errors of only 5% . The observational error is the difference between the value given by the measuring instrument and the actual value measured on a crash test dummyduring laboratory tests.
The Mouthguard: For More Accurate Impact Measurements
The new technology consists of mouthguard instrumentation. The reason that the mouthguard can provide a measure closer to the actual value is the placement of the device. The mouthguard is closer to the head’s center of gravity than measuring instruments inserted in a protective helmet or even placed directly on the head. In addition, the mouthguard allows better tracking of the actual head movements compared to measuring instruments found inside protective helmets, as shown in the following video:
There are two areas that are located near the head’s center of gravity: the mouth and the ears. Using the mouthguard not only provides head parameter measurements near the center of gravity, but also provides additional protection. The mouthguard helps protect the teeth and jaw from direct impacts and reduces the linear acceleration of the head . Smart mouthguard models like the FITguard, the Vector and the Intelligent Mouthguard have been developed recently.
The components of these mouthguards can be found mainly in smart phones. For example, inside the Intelligent Mouthguard, there is a microcontroller, accelerometers, a gyroscope, a flexible circuit board, a lithium battery and a switch . Components of the mouthguards are used to measure head movement parameters such as linear acceleration and angular acceleration. The acceleration measurements are then fed into a computer and sometimes even into a smart phone! When accelerations are high and present a risk of concussion, the computer or smart phone alerts the user. Seeing the risk, a coach could remove a player from the field and prevent the concussion. This measuring instrument is revolutionary because it can target all sports, even those that do not require protective helmets, like soccer.